Berkeley community radio station KPFA has come a long way in the last year.
On July 13, 1999 the governing board of Pacifica Foundation, which holds the license to the listener-sponsored station, locked programmers out of the building, triggering weeks of demonstrations and dozens of arrests. Today KPFA celebrates the one-year anniversary of that day as it continues implementing a new election process for its Local Advisory Board.
Traditionally self-appointing, the Local Advisory Board will elect its members for the first time this year. Last year’s crisis brought light to the undemocratic process of appointing the LAB and was an impetus for change, said Curt Gray, a member of the KPFA local board election committee.
When community members complained that the 22-member LAB was too similar to the national board in its practice of appointing rather than electing its board, the LAB decided to democratize.
“I think this is an important move to build stronger links between the radio station and the community,” said Tracy Rosenberg, administrative director of Media Alliance, a San Francisco media advocacy organization.
Sherry Gendelman, chair of the LAB said that the events over the past year raised concerns in the community. The community’s voice was no longer being recognized by Pacifica and a local governing board internally selected had little accountability to the listeners.
A number of advisory board members and subscribers decided that elections would be another way to influence Pacifica, in addition to demonstrating and getting arrested.
“So they decided the (lab) needed to be restructured,” Gray added.
Those advisory board members and station subscribers hope that the new election process will serve as a model for the National Governing Board of the Pacifica Foundation, which still appoints its members internally.
“If there is a change in the members of the national governing board, then maybe they will take an interest in involving the community with an election,” Gendelman said.
Two-thirds of the Local Board will be elected by subscribers and the other third by KPFA staff. Most of the staff is made up of unpaid volunteers from the community.
The nomination process began June 24 and will continue through Aug. 9. The station will mail out ballots to KPFA voters on Aug. 25 and receive them a month later. To make the election valid, 10 percent of eligible voters (over 2,000 people) must return ballots.
To be qualified to vote, people must have either fulfilled a pledge of at least $25 to KPFA, volunteered at KPFA for at least three hours in the last year or have been a KPFA staff member in the past year. Youth 20 years old or younger will be allowed to vote in this election only, in order to increase the number of voters.
If the ballots are returned on time, the results will be announced in late September or October. Gray said delays could cause the process to be moved back, however.
The election committee decided to use a proportional representation format for the election, an uncommon alternative election process. Under this method, voters will rank their top three candidates to fill the seven or eight open board seats. When counting the ballots, the committee will use a process that ensures half of the elected members to be women and half to be of minority groups.
“This way we will represent and reflect all colors and interest groups humanly possible,” Gray said. “We are setting an example where the majority will not be able to silence the minority, which is how it usually works in this country.”
Media Alliance is presenting a nomination forum Wednesday, July 19 from 7-9 p.m. at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, 814 Mission Street second floor. For election updates, the public can call 510-848-6767, extension 463.
Timeline of station events
KPFA’s conflict with its license-holder, Pacifica Foundation, came to a head March 31, when popular station manager Nicole Sawaya’s contract was not renewed. The conflict continues today.
March 31, 1999 KPFA General Manager Nicole Sawaya is terminated. Eight hundred people gather in front of the station.
April 9, 1999 Larry Bensky, 30-year award winning broadcaster, is fired after promising on air to discuss Sawaya’s firing on his Sunday Salon program.
April 15, 1999 One thousand people demonstrate outside Pacifica’s offices in Berkeley.
June 18, 1999 Robbie Osman, 22-year programmer is fired by Chadwick. Two days later KPFA goes off the air for the two hours of Osman’s program.
June 21, 1999 After camping overnight in front of KPFA and Pacifica headquarters, 14 people are arrested.
July 13, 1999 Acting KPFA manager Garland Ganter asks security guards to escort host Dennis Bernstein out of the station. Bernstein calls out that he is being removed. Hundreds gather in front of the station at night and more than 50 are arrested. Pacifica locks up station.
July 27, 1999 Berkeley City council holds special session and calls for KPFA to return to community control.
July 31, 1999 More than 10,000 people march in Berkeley in support of reopening the station, Berkeley’s largest march since the Vietnam protests.
Aug. 5, 1999 The station reopens.
Oct. 27, 1999 A dozen affiliates boycott the station for a day. Programming Director Dan Coughlin broadcasts the news and is taken off the air.
May 17, 2000 KPFA Local Advisory Board votes to democratize itself. Plans to implement an election process begin.
– Dan Greenman,
Daily Planet Staff